1 Thessalonians 5.6
I entered the world at 7 o’clock in the morning—which, my mother says, is why I don’t sleep very much at night. “You fought all night to get here, and it’s gone like that ever since,” she says. Whether there’s any biological basis for this or not, it is true that I’m at my best in the wee hours. Friends and clients always comment on the peculiar time stamps on my emails and document dates. They can’t conceive working until 5 or 6 AM; for me it’s normal. I’m just not a “day person.”
As a believer, however, I am one of millions of “day people.” In the verse just before the one above, Paul tells the Thessalonians, “You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness.” This jibes with Jesus’s words in John 5.9: “As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming when no one can work.” But as we read through the Thessalonian passage, the day-night dichotomy gets a little murky. Verse 6 tells us to be alert and self-controlled, unlike those who are—presumably—asleep on the job. Then, verse 7 says, “For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night.” That’s when the light goes off. Paul’s not talking about day and night; he’s talking about excess and moderation, about maintaining our composure and self-control in all situations. He’s insisting we’re neither day people nor night people. We’re 24/7 people.
Self-control is the last fruit of the Spirit on the list (Galatians 5.22-23), and there’s a good reason why. It reaffirms our understanding that we must control ourselves—our thoughts, our actions, and our motives—in order to bear fruit. First, self-control allows us to be firmly established in our faith, reaching maturity and solidifying our grasp of truth. “Then,” Paul writes in Ephesians 4.14, “we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.” Self-control solves a lot of control issues simply by our retaining full responsibility for our thoughts and behaviors.
The moment we loosen the reins on self-discipline is the moment someone (or something) else takes control of our destiny. And, unfortunately, a momentary slip can sometimes produce a life of trouble at the hands of cunning, crafty, malevolent schemers who prey on lapses in diligence. So self-control is vital for self-protection and safety. Proverbs 25.28 says, “Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control.” If we’re ruined by our lack of restraint and sound judgment, we can’t produce spiritual fruit. It’s that simple.
Closing the Circle
But I think there’s a second reason why Paul holds self-control as the last fruit he lists. It closes the circle, tightly interlocking with the first fruit: love. In John 13.35, Jesus cites love as evidence of discipleship. “All men will know you follow Me if you love one another.” Yet while love proves we’re His followers, it doesn’t necessarily make us disciples. Discipline makes disciples. Controlling our desires, impulses, and reflexes is a must. So is corralling our opinions, egos, and drives to overcompensate, overpower, and over-achieve. It’s essential that we remain honest with ourselves at all times, just so we can frankly address the moments when our selves try to slip out of control.
For believers, there are no “I-can’t-help-it” excuses, because we resigned our hearts to that fact long ago. We turned our lives over to Christ, Who is our Help. Hebrews 4.16 says, “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” When we risk losing our self-control in circumstances we can’t help, we go to God in confidence, knowing His mercy and grace will see us through. We may slip. We may err. But we work through our problems without losing control of our determination and discipline. Self-control teaches us what we can and can’t manage or predict. In turn, this sharpens our awareness of what others can and can’t control, which increases our power to forgive, to tolerate, and to reach out to them. When we close the circle, then, self-control leads to love. And from there, Spiritual fruits of every kind—summer, winter, and useful fruits—blossom and grow.
Paul likens losing self-control to falling asleep; it leaves us vulnerable to all sorts of dangers, some self-imposed and others inflicted by predatory schemers.
(Tomorrow: Getting Past the Past)